Innovate or die. The fiercely competitive nature of global business means that companies, especially those in the multinational medical and tech sectors, must invest in research and development to stay relevant in an ever-changing corporate sector. Some of these changes are driven by strong links with the Irish third-level sector, including the Insight Centre for Data Analytics and medical-device-focused CÚRAM.
We spoke to three US firms who have a significant presence in Ireland about the trends they are seeing in their industry.
Mark Gantly is the senior research and development director with Hewlett Packard Enterprises and a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. Keith Griffin is a principal engineer in Cisco's collaboration technology group office, based in Galway. Aidan Kenny is vice-president for innovation and applied technology and head of Fidelity Labs Europe at Fidelity Investments.
What innovation trends are emerging?
Open source has been one of the biggest movements in the last 10 years. Historically, companies innovated internally and were very protective of their own intellectual property but, today, many developers, both independent and corporate, work together on collectively developing new technologies. This is more efficient for the companies, while open source means the customers and users can see what is inside a particular technology and not be caught out by security trapdoors.
In addition, we are seeing the whole area of DevOpps take off, which has been facilitated by the emergence of the cloud and means that updates can be pushed straight into the cloud and immediately used by the consumer. A side-effect of this is that we no longer have 'big bang' releases. Keith Griffin: We have been ahead of, and are helping to drive, the re-emergence of artificial intelligence. What it means for us is the practical application of machine-learning techniques to our collaboration technologies such as WebEx meetings, calling and video-room systems products.
Aidan Kenny: We have never seen such disruption and change across so many parts of our businesses, all at the same time. Customers are transforming faster than ever and we are seeing the hyper-adoption of new technologies and services like never before. Our customers are also better informed thanks to the democratisation of learning and the interaction explosion that we are seeing as a result of improved connectivity and social media. The growth of the gig economy is also changing how people work and think about jobs, while the competitive landscape is changing with the emergence of start-ups that pick the niches they want to work in.
What are the possibilities that these trends offer, both for your industry and in the wider world?
MG: There is a huge amount happening in Ireland and open source offers huge opportunities: anyone can join the community and contribute. Meanwhile, it is completely reasonable to store vast amounts of data, so interesting algorithms can and are being developed to leverage fresh insights.
KG: Machine learning and AI offer huge possibilities. This is true both in our industry (collaboration technology) and for society in general. Within this industry, I have a very clear view of the application and benefits of AI. The potential societal impact is a much bigger question and the answer needs to consider both the threat and opportunity for 'general AI'.
AK: Technological innovation is transforming how firms run their business. Blockchain, AI and emerging interfaces like virtual and augmented reality are enabling companies to enhance customer experience and improve productivity.
What could be done to facilitate a stronger climate for innovation, particularly between US and Irish firms?
KG: There are opportunities for increased research activity between industry and academic groups for data science and machine learning in Ireland. As an example, the Insight Centre for Data Analytics have built a strong research practice in related data science research. Another way to facilitate innovation is through the provision of skills. Ireland has made a good start to this with the recent introduction of the first MSc in artificial intelligence, which came about as a result of industry and academic collaboration.
AK: At Fidelity Labs, we encourage our employees to experiment and learn by trying; we then identify opportunities with high potential and scale them rapidly. Our presence in Ireland allows us to actively engage with the ecosystems of researchers, start-ups and investors so we can be inspired by innovation outside our walls.